A Feeling of Euphoria
By Chris Kerrigan
Fear of the unknown
Three nights a week, every week, studio two at the Recreation and Activity Center here at Georgia Southern University comes alive with loud beats, quick steps and the laughter of Euphoria dance club. This group of African-American students is GSU’s number one, and only real Hip-Hop dance club and crew, and I had the privilege to get to know them on a personal level. Although I thought I was a respectable dancer, this group of athletic, synchronized, furious, explosive dance machines was able to change my thoughts immediately.
I have always loved dance, ever since I was very little. I first got interested in the incredible moves that dancers could invent when I was seven years old in Spain, and I remember seeing a group of tango dancers who were completely captivating. Since then, I have always loved getting up and dancing at any sort of social event or party when I get the chance. I decided to take hip hop dance lessons in London when I was fifteen years old, but had to stop as I was a serious tennis player. Last summer I taught my own dance class in Greece. It was only a group of seventeen people, and was not at the same level as groups such as Euphoria. With my love of dance I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to really see what the life of a dancer is like and what it takes to be a professional Hip-Hop dancer.
I had been emailing and calling a number of members of the group and had not received a reply in over a week. I was getting slightly worried, but it turns out they had had a week off because of a competition the week before. The officer of Euphoria, Jacqueline emailed me to say they were rehearsing on Wednesday night at the usual time of 9:00pm. I was slightly nervous as I felt slightly like an outsider to this group, due to the fact that I am white, had never really danced at a high level before, had never met any of them before and was not inside their friendship group. However, when I arrived at RAC on the freezing cold Wednesday night I was immediately greeted by warm smiles and handshakes while they all came up to me and introduced themselves. There are nine full-time members of Euphoria, all of whom are students here at GSU, and that made me feel slightly more like an insider to the group, as I knew I was going through a lot of what they were on a daily basis as well.
“Hi there! You must be Christian!” Said Jacqueline, in a high pitched, jolly voice.
“Yes” I said, moving into the studio further. “Thank you for letting me sit in on this. I will try not to get in the way too much.”
“Oh don’t be silly. You get involved as much as you want.”
I thought that this was probably not a real invitation to get up and join in with the dance routines, but more of a friendly gesture to make me feel welcome, and it worked. I immediately felt more relaxed about the situation as the rest of the group came to me to introduce themselves, all with big smiles across their faces. I could hardly wait to see wait they had in store for me.
The studio in which they practice is a typical workout studio, with light wooden floorboards and a large open space. However, this studio has two of its walls completely covered in mirrors, so this makes the room feel even larger. It reminded me of a dance studio I used to go to at “Pineapple Dance Studios” in London; however, this room had dark-brown floorboards, which gave the room a completely different feel. I liked the brightness of this studio at the RAC, with white walls and plenty of electric lighting in ceiling. It seemed to give a sense of energy to a place that would otherwise be a lifeless empty space.
Along the right-hand wall, when entering through the right-hand door, there was a long, light brown, wooden row of shelves and cabinets. These were about one and a half meters tall and stretched for almost the whole of the right-hand wall. In the shelf section of this, people put their clothes and other possessions for safekeeping as they work out. On top of the shelves and cabinets people also leave a bunch of random objects such as keys, half-eaten food, and water bottles. In the cabinets, there were different instruments and objects for certain workouts, some of which I had never even seen before.
At the back of the room there was a large crate of exercise balls of all different sizes and colors. The balls were kept in by a thin net and so the colors are on full display. They really lit up the room and made it seem a lot more colorful. Next to the balls there was a black rack of purple and pink plastic-covered dumbbells of varying weights. The rack was about one meter high and propped up against it, there were black workout poles with different colored ends, depending on the difference in weight.
Overall, the crew had a lot of space to practice in, and I was actually surprised at how large the room felt. In the center of one of the walls, there was an indent with a small, raised, semi-circular platform, from which the person or people giving instructions or directions would stand. This is what I would consider the center of the room as it could be used to split the room into two halves, if needed. When I was in the room with Euphoria, it felt completely different to when I was in there on my own afterwards, taking notes. There was less energy and everything stood out to me more when I didn’t have an amazing dance spectacle in front of me.
The wooden floor had just been polished when I went to the studio, and so this was the prominent smell at the time. The other smells that hit me as I walked around the room were that of the food left out on the cabinet, which was not very pleasant, and also the smell of the workout balls, which have a sort of vanilla smell to them.
Inside the studio, especially when the doors are shut, there is very little sound, apart from the odd creak of the floorboards as you walk across them. When standing in the middle of the studio, I got a chill up my spine because it was so quiet. It seems like the perfect place to concentrate on dance or working out.
The Warm Up
“We warm up for around ten or so minutes before doing anything because otherwise, one of us or all of us are gonna get hurt,” said Rion, one of the Seniors in the group.
So they started the practice with a warm-up. Even though not all of them were actually there yet, it seemed to be a very relaxed atmosphere in which people could turn up a few minutes late and not have to worry about it. I loved this. Being a tennis player here at GSU I have it drilled into my mind every day, that, as my coach says, “Five minutes early is on time”. Therefore, I thought it slightly odd that they were not punished for arriving late. However, I then started thinking that I was being a bit ridiculous, and (as I would be proven wrong after my experience) that this was a hobby to them and a time to relax and have fun.
They started the warm-up with certain people choosing to use foam rollers. The foam roller is two feet in length, and is a cylinder shape. It is made of polystyrene foam and is black in color. It looks like an extremely boring and useless object to someone who has never used one before. However, a foam roller is used to stretch out muscles all over the body and is used by almost all elite athletes. This was slightly surprising to me, as I thought that only elite and serious athletes used these.
My perception of what this type of dance involved was changing slightly, as I saw them using foam rollers and warming up in a serious manner, as I thought that this was just a hobby or an activity to relax and have fun, but as it turns out, it is that and much more.
I was told to sit aside against the wall when they put away the warm-up mats, presumably so I would not get in the way of what was about to come. I had gone from being nervous when first entering the room, to extremely excited and eager to see what they had in store. I had pictures in my mind of dance movies that I had seen, such as Step Up 2 (2008), which involved a high number of very skilled dancers fighting against each other in dance battles to win respect, and also of my own experiences with dance- both of which are very different from each other. Therefore, I really didn’t know what to expect.
The first stage of the practice was spent learning the beginning of a new dance that the group as a whole had come up with. At first they were going through the moves without music and were just counting steps and moves in a way that they could all understand. Even from this moment I could tell I was in for a treat. The synchronization of the group, even though this was the first time they had gone through this dance, was unbelievable. It was as if they had been doing this routine for years. It started off with them all in a big group, in the center of the floor. They then all slowly lifted their heads as one unit until they were facing directly in front of them. The next move involved them using their arms to make all kinds of shapes that mirrored from one half of them to the other. After a few movements of that, they moved on to the legs. This is where it became more explosive. They jumped into a more spread out position in sync, and then started pulling shapes and moves that I had seen from movies. It made me want to get up there and do it myself.
After they had been through this intro section of about 15 beats, and made sure that everyone was up to speed, they turned the music on. This added a whole new dimension to the dance and raised the energy and atmosphere tenfold. The song they were dancing to was called ‘Danza Kuduro’. I had this song on my iPod and so was singing along with the words as they danced. The song has a good, fast-tempo beat to it and is, what I would call, a ‘summer song’. Every move that they now made seemed to be more explosive and more exciting with the edition of this loud sound, and everything seemed more unbelievable.
What was astounding to me was how they all managed to stay serious and concentrated throughout the practice, while still having fun and laughing. I feel that they really had a special bond between one another and all wanted the same thing- to work hard and have fun doing it.
After they had gone through the introduction sequence, they moved on to the next 15 beats of the dance. Again, they started off with no music and then went to doing it with music once everyone was up to speed. Joining the two sections together made the dance look much more whole and looked incredibly impressive. It seemed to be that they had a routine to which they could learn dances and routines. This routine was used for three different sections the first time I went, and was continuously used if they needed to learn new steps or go over a certain section at later practices.
After the main body of the practice was over, they went into a huddle formation, as I do with my tennis team. After all putting their hands into the middle, one of them shouted “One! Two! Three!,” and as a group they yelled, “Euphoria!” At this point in time, it is fair to say that the studio smelt quite strongly of sweat and body odor. But to me, being an athlete, that is the smell of hard work.
The next stage of the session was to cool down and stretch again. This time the stretching was done in a group and only lasted for about 5 minutes. During this, they asked me to come and sit with them, and they asked me questions such as what my major was, how old I was, and where I was from. I felt like they were all genuinely interested about me and my background, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them a bit better.
Hip- Hop Dance
Although I had had some experience with dance in the past, and also had the opportunity to watch Euphoria practice, I realized that I really had no idea where this form of dance came from, or what it is truly about. After putting in time to research these questions, I discovered that, in the early 1960s, Black and Latino Americans created ‘uprock’ and ‘breaking’, which are forms of what we now call Hip-Hop dance, in New York City. Black Americans in California created locking, roboting, boogaloo, and popping—collectively referred to as the funk styles. All of these dance styles are different, stylistically. They share common ground in their street origins, and in their improvisational nature. Now that I knew where this amazing art form derived from, I had to find out what people’s views are on it as a whole, and on the participants themselves. I came to realize that although many people prefer and think more highly of other forms of dance, such as ballet, most surveys suggest that people enjoy watching Hip-Hop dance and have no problems with it, or the people who do it.
This surprised me a little bit, as I thought that the stereotype for this type of dance may have been a lot more negative than studies show. According to a “Dance Research” article (2013 Prickett, S.), in the last five years, there has been an increase in the programming of schedules in the West End and other prominent venues in London, and also worldwide, that feature Hip–Hop dance productions, showing that this style of dance is not just for the streets and for the lower class, but for all people who share a love for dance as a whole.
The Style of Euphoria
Euphoria was not what I would consider a generic hip-hop dance group, if there was such a thing. The moves that they used seemed to flow into each other so smoothly, unlike many other dances I had seen before. The thing that I admired most about the choreography of Euphoria was actually that they tried to tell stories through their dance, so every move they made and every spin they did had a significant meaning to it.
An example would be when they did a move with their arms and hands, all in sync with each other, which is called ‘tutting’. This move, as they later explained to me, was significant to the story they were telling in this routine as the straight motions of the arms and hands signified the directions in which they were all going in their lives. They all had their hands moving in varying directions, but all at the same time. This, they told me, signified how they are all going through the same things with each other, but ultimately they all have different paths in life.
After most of the others had left, one of the seniors who founded the group, Rion, very kindly agreed to speak to me. I was thinking that we would talk in a different location, maybe outside, while sitting on chairs in the entrance to the RAC, but he told me to come and join him on the wooden floor of the studio where he was finishing up stretching. The floor was slightly damp from where another person had been stretching, and sweating. I thought that this must be where he feels most safe, secure and comfortable to talk about this topic.
He immediately shook my hand, and introduced himself properly to me. I got the impression right away that this was going to be a relaxed interview, as he is more or less my age and is going through a lot of the same challenges as I am, at this time in our lives. He is one of the tallest in the group, a little taller than me, at about 6’5”. However, when I was watching him dance, he looked extremely well-coordinated, very unlike many others of this height. He had brown eyes, and dark skin, and was wearing tracksuit pants, and a bright red t-shirt.
“I think the group worked extremely hard today, and the best part of all was, we had fun!” He said, still slightly out of breath from the stretching.
This gave me the immediate impression that he was a relaxed and happy character who also liked to work hard. He said that he has been dancing since the age of seven, and that he has been in love with hip-hop and street dance more than other style of dance. It was his mother that first got him involved in dance when she bought him a dance DVD called ‘Dance Battle’. He was six years old at the time, and loved the way that the people were moving and became so obsessed with it that he started making little routines of his own.
By his senior year at School, he had been dancing with a dance crew made up of him and seven others, for three years and had really become very talented because of the amount he practiced.
“I never thought of dance rehearsals as extra work or an extra effort, just something that I could always look forward to, no matter how my day was going.” He grinned and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say that surely everyone else must feel this way about what they love as well. This really made sense to me, as this is how I feel with my tennis practice. I do not see it as an extra burden, but as a great part of my day. My thoughts about what this style, and indeed all styles, of dance means to the dancers, were confirmed by this statement. It really is what they love and breathe for and is what they are most passionate about.
“I always want to compete as much as possible, as that really is the main goal. But it really is the taking part that counts in a sport like this, not the winning. If you enjoy what you are doing, and can also develop your own abilities, mentally, and physically…it’s basically a win-win.” I had never heard someone talk about dance as a sport before, but looking at how much work goes into it and how fit and athletic dancers really are, I now see just how much like other sports it really is.
The way that he was talking about dance made me realize just how much enjoyment it brings him. He also assured me that all of the other people he dances with love it just as much as he does, and that everyone has their own specific strengths and weaknesses, and it is the combination of the different strengths that make a great dance crew.
When asked if there were any moments in his dancing career that he cherishes the most, he hesitated and looked up into the sky, searching for one of what must have been a thousand different memories. “No, I don’t think I can say that there is one that particularly..” he stopped halfway through his sentence and his eyes shot back at me with a slight spark in them that I hadn’t seen before, as if he had just found out something spectacular. “Wait- there was this one time, which I will never forget.” His voice quickened, and he began leaning into the conversation more with his body as he spoke. “In Alabama, when I was about 15 years old, I was in a regional dance competition that was the highlight of my career at the time. I had been recovering from an injury to my left knee and was not expecting to do well. However, through the rounds, I felt myself going harder and dancing faster than ever before. Although my knee was in a lot of pain, I was able to carry on because I wanted it so badly. I won that competition and it was possibly the best day of my life!” His smile had grown tremendously from when he started the story and I could now see a full set of white teeth, which matched his glimmering white eyes with excitement, stretched out from one side of his face to the other, in a very wide smile.
He told me that he plans to carry on dancing when his College career is over here at GSU, in any way that he can. He is going to go back to Atlanta for a year or so, to get started with a job, and will start to dance with old friends of his, in his spare time. “I am sad that I won’t be able to compete in any form of dance for quite a while now, but I know it will always be a big part of my life.”
A Day of a Dancer
Having looked at this whole subculture through my eyes, and through my own interpretations, I think it would now be important to look at it from a different angle. Therefore, I asked one of the other members, Tres, to talk me through what he thought about Euphoria as a whole, and also how it all fits in with his daily routine.
“I mean the practices are the best part of my week, and the competitions and performances that we go in for are just a massive bonus”
Tres is a Junior here at Georgia Southern and has been with Euphoria since his Freshman year. He is an exercise science major like myself, and also plays a lot of soccer in his spare time. The way he talked about dance and Euphoria, made it sound like it was a lot more of a passion, than a hobby, which is the exact vibe that I was getting from Rion and the other members as well.
After classes finish for the day, Tres said that he would usually go back to his place in Copper Beach and relax for an hour or two by watching TV, or playing PS3 with his friends. After this he would get any homework or papers that need completing out of the way, which he said was his worst bit of the day; and then he would get ready to go to the RAC. On days that he doesn’t have practice, he would usually work out at the gym for an hour or so, before heading home. However, on the days that Euphoria does meet, his attitude is completely different throughout the day as he has something to look forward to. After we had talked about his daily life, I decided to change the topic to Hip-Hop dance as a culture, and see what his thoughts were about stereotypes.
“I don’t think there were many bad stereotypes to do with hip-hop dance, in general. I do think that some people are very quick to judge us as a whole, when they realize what we do.”
Tres went on to talk about how Hip-Hop dance really is an extremely international sport, and how there are many competitions across the world, every month. It turns out that he really was right, as a website called ‘Hip Hop International’ (2007, June) shows all of the different Hip-Hop crews, competitions and news from over forty different countries around the world, and also shows any upcoming events, and videos and pictures from past contests. For me this really showed just how huge this genre of dance is, and I feel that it should be advertised more around the globe, so that more and more people can see how incredible it is and any negative stereotypes can be erased.
I had now been to a total of four practices, and this Friday night, was my last one. It was sad, in a way, as I had really come to enjoy hanging out with the group and watching them perform, but I was still excited that I had the chance to go back one more time. The practice went ahead as usual, and they were finishing up the last section of a dance that they had to perform the next week. After they finished, they all invited me to go and try out their routine with them. I’m sure they figured out that I had been watching it enough times, that I could at least give it a go. To their surprise, and to mine, I was actually able to keep up with them for the most part and did not make a fool of myself. They applauded my efforts and Rion asked if I would like to practice with them any other weeks. Of course I immediately said yes. This made me extremely happy to know that not only had I learnt so much about a new group and subculture, but had also made some great new friends along the way.
Hip – Hop dance is becoming so big internationally, and is increasingly being accepted into modern-day dance and society as a whole. This is especially clear in London, as a member of the ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ contest winner – Hip-Hop dance group ‘Diversity’, was even asked to carry the Olympic flame for the London Olympics in 2012, according to an article on Diversity’s website. (2012). With this increased acceptance of Hip-Hop dance in London and across the world, I feel that it would be a real shame not to get involved with it right now, as the growth is happening. Therefore, I am taking dance classes back home in London over the summer vacation, so that I may even be able to practice with Euphoria and get to the same level as them when I return.
What I learnt most about this group is how passionate they are about what they do. Dance is a lot more to them than just a hobby. It is their gateway into an alternative world, from the normal dullness of college life. Many in the group told me how it gives them an opportunity to express themselves and let out any emotions which they have bottled up during the day. I think looking at dance this way, really does explain why it is enjoyed by so many people in all corners of the globe. Rion also talked about how Hip-Hop dance is thought of as a sport in their culture, which I was originally surprised to hear, as I had never even thought of any form of dance being considered a sport before. However, after seeing what they put their bodies through, I fully agree with the notion that this is a full-on sport. Being a tennis player myself here at GSU, I know what my workouts are like, and these guys were sweating twice as much, as we sometimes do. Overall this is what impressed me the most and made the biggest impact on me. I have even more respect for dancers of all genres now and I feel that my eyes have been opened, as I have been given a sneak peak of what the life of a hip-hop dancer is really like.